Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 2 March 2014





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Government Gazette

Celebrates 63rd anniversary...:

SLAF stands tall

The Sri Lanka Air Force celebrates its 63rd anniversary today. A new chief took over the command last Friday. Five years ago, on the night of February 20, just ten days before they were to traditionally celebrate their fifty eighth Air Force Day and the Sri Lankan military was on the edge of winning the war against terrorism when an LTTE flying bomb hit Colombo in a kamikaze style suicide air attack. The LTTE ZLIN 143 air craft heavily laden with C4 explosives hit the Inland Revenue Department building in th slave Island around 10 p.m.

Outgoing Commander Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrama handing over the command to his successor Air Marshal Kolitha Gunatilleke, ironically they are sons of the same alma mater, Royal College

The badly damaged Inland Revenue Department building

The sparks from the explosions illuminated the dark skies

Air Force personnel investigating the fallen ZLIN air craft in Katunayake

By this time of the year in 2009 the entire area was in . For eye witnesses it was a terrifying experience. The night skies above Lake House and the vicinity were illuminated with anti-aircraft fire. According to Air Force sources the highly probable target would have been the Air Force Headquarters which was just a few blocks away from the Inland Revenue Department.

According to military sources, news reached the Air Defence Operations Centre in Katunayake around 8.30 p.m. on that night from Army frontline in Puthukkuduyirippu of two aircraft heading Southwest. They were sighted by ground troops in Mankulam and Silavathurai as well. The SLAF Radar base in Vavuniya picked up sights of the LTTE ZLINs making a turn at Mannar heading towards Colombo. When aircraft moved away from the Vavuniya radar range the Palavi radar unit in Puttalam took over. The Vavuniya radar unit was one of the first two Indra MkII radars tht became operational during January and February in 2006. These radars has a 90 kilometres range. They were mobile, gap filler-land based radars designed to operate within a large air defence system.

A F7 jet targetted the LTTE ZLINs yet could not achieve. The jest were not manufactured to suit the simple technologies of the ZLIN 143. ZLIN 143 aircraft, manufactured in the Czech Republic, is a single engine, low-winged monoplane, mainly used for training purposes. It is normally a four-seater, but is modified by the LTTE to carry four bombs on its undercarriage. The Tiger terrorists are the only group known so far to use Z-143s for military purposes. Following the F7 attempt the MI24 helicopter intercepted the terrorist air crafts. Although the camera fixed to the MI24 detected the aircraft, the enemy moved in to a cloud cover nullifying the engagement opportunity.

Air Defence System

Simultaneously the Air Force activated their Air Defence System and the two LTTE flying bombs have continued moving towards south – towards Colombo passing Katunayake. By this time a large area covering Katunayake and Colombo were plunged in total darkness due to power shut down as it would make manoeuvering difficult for the LTTE.

Radars detected that the air crafts entered the Colombo sky limits past 10.45 p.m. With this the Air Defence System started firing illuminating the pitch dark night while soldiers are checkpoints tried bringing down the enemy shooting at will.

Based on the pattern the LTTE air crafts circled in the Colombo city, Air Force sources believe that the apparent target would have been the Air Force Headquarters yet the Inland Revenue Department became the victim. Both the buildings were a few blocks apart and were on the same side of the banks of the Beira lake. Just before the LTTE rammed in to the building the Air Defence System made a hit on one of the ZLINs making the terrorists loose control of the air craft. In a few minutes the LTTE flying bomb rammed in to the Inland Revenue Building and the damage killed two people damaging the twelfth floor of the building. Fifty people sustained injuries. Almost all were non military. And no human rights activist spoke about these victims. Not even did they make a mere mention.

Over the chaotic skies the remaining ZLIN diverted its route towards Katunayake. According to the Air Force it was approaching the SLAF Katunayake base where the main two fighter jet squadrons were located. Within seconds the Air Defence System searchlight operator managed to focus the lone ZLIN and the Air Defence System showered fire targeting the terrorists. Close to 11 p.m. the aircraft was shot down and it had crashed to a nearby grove and the pilot, thrown out of the cockpit with a bullet ridden body.

It was this crash that confirmed that the LTTE were using Czech built ZLIN 143. If not for the success of the Air Defence System this evidence would have taken longer time to realise. While the SLAF radar systems operated as the eye of the Air Defence System the trailer mounted Bofors L70 40mm air defence guns attached to another fire control radar would be limbs. These guns and fire controlling radars were installed in SLAF air bases around the country and selected strategic locations in Colombo city. It is this efficient Air Defence System of the SLAF that was installed in 2006 with two Indra MK II, one command and Control Centre, that thwarted the primitive yet annoying air attack of the LTTE.

The crashed ZLIN air craft fully intact gave a lot of evidence on the ‘modus operandi’ of the LTTE. According to the GPRS found in the crashed air craft the LTTE air crafts have taken off from a narrow location at Ampalavanpokkanai which was an areas within the then demarcated ‘no fire zone. It had been loaded with C4 explosives. Both had been. With this the LTTE air attempts were totally nullified by the Air Force and finally revealing the much hidden facts of the LTTE air ‘power'.

Victorious past

Today proud members of the Air Force will celebrate their victorious past with ample success stories like the stories below. The SLAF Commander who retired Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrama was the Director Operations at the time of the above mentioned attack. Solemnly but gracefully the commanders, the outgoing and the incoming, took their turns under the skies that once a mayhem was unleashed. Today the Air Force is under a new leadership of Air Marshal Kolitha Gunatilleke who is an extremely skilful pilot with versatility.

As there remains no remnants of the LTTE air attacks, with the unique experiences absorbed during the war against terrorism, Sri Lanka Air Force stands in an unbeatable position in succeeding mission impossible.

LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lank
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
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